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Yes, some marijuana tax revenue goes to Washington's public education system

OSPI receives about $520,000 a year from marijuana tax revenue, however the taxes were not originally earmarked to go toward education.

WASHINGTON, USA — There’s been a lot of debate in Washington about how the state should use the tax money it gets from marijuana purchases.

Washington state voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana a decade ago in 2012. The state collected over $559 million in legal marijuana income and license fees in 2021, according to the Washington State Treasurer.

Viewer Alice wrote to KING 5 asking whether or not tax revenue from marijuana sales in the state goes toward funding education. 

THE QUESTION

"The marijuana taxes were supposed to go to help schools. Are the schools getting any money?"

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, Washington schools get some money from marijuana tax revenue, however, it's only a small portion of the funds. Additionally, marijuana taxes were never solely intended to fund the state's education system. 

WHAT WE FOUND

The Office of Financial Management and OSPI said roughly $520,000 a year goes directly to OSPI from the state's "dedicated marijuana account." 

Dixie Grunenfelder is the executive director of student engagement and support at OSPI. She said that money funds a program called "Building Bridges."

"(The funds are) used to support schools in developing comprehensive student support systems," Grunenfelder said. "Identifying students who are at risk of disengaging from school and also students who have left school to reengage them back into the educational system."

The rest of the money from the marijuana tax is distributed to a number of places including the state's general fund, which does give money to schools, but there's no way to know how much and it has no direct tie to the marijuana tax revenue.

In 2021, the state reportedly collected more than $559 million in marijuana tax. Of that, 0.09% of those funds directly went to OSPI. 

"Of course, we would all like more money, but I think we are happy with the revenue that we get, and we put it to good use," Grunenfelder said.

So was the marijuana tax revenue ever intended to go to schools?

Initiative 502, which voters passed in 2012, says passing the initiative "generates new state and local tax revenue for education, health care, research, and substance abuse prevention."

However, the word "education" does not explicitly refer to schools.

The state liquor and cannabis board said the tax revenue has always primarily been dedicated to healthcare, public awareness campaigns and research.

"Education" may refer to money for the Department of Health to do a public education campaign. 

So yes, schools get a little money from the marijuana tax, but it was never intended to fund schools. 

The Washington State Legislature can decide how to spend marijuana revenue, as long as it follows the original intent of the initiative. 

Right now, the biggest chunk of money goes to helping the state pay for the cost of healthcare for low-income families.

If you have something you want us to verify, send us an email at verify@king5.com.

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